publication day

Publication day for Countdown.  I am signing the book in New York City, at Books of Wonder, from noon to 2pm today. Come say hey!

I woke up very early on this sunny Saturday in New York, excited and ready to go. Now, a few hours later, I feel a sleepiness coming. It's the sleepiness you feel when you have done your best, and it's time to let go... let go into sleep at the end of the day, or let go of the project you spent so many years working on... it's that same feeling. It's like letting a child go off, into the world. You have nurtured and cared for that child as best you can. You will always be supportive. But now it's time to let that book, that child, find a life of her own.

I know I'll be energized and delighted, when I get to Books of Wonder -- this is my first public signing for Countdown! -- it's a debut! But I also know that the letting go has begun in earnest, and this, also, is good.

When a book leaves my hands, it no longer belongs to me. It belongs to the reader. Here is what readers have said, so far, about Countdown. I hope you'll indulge me some of the full reviews below. I want to capture them in one place, and give you a look, too, at how different each reviewer's voice is, for that is part of the magic of good reviewing. 

Very early on, Monica Edinger, at Educating Alice, wrote about Countdown.

Then Alison Morris chimed in.

And Betsy Bird, Fuse #8, had marvelous things to say as well.

This just in: The BookPage review of Countdown by Dean Schneider --

and also this review from the Barrow Elementary School Media Center and librarian Andy Plemmons, in Athens, Georgia. 

Y'all: you take my breath away. Thank you so much. I am not good at keeping up with reviews; if you have reviewed Countdown, or know of other blog reviews, please send me a link in the comments, so they can be included.

Here is the Q&A with Deborah Wiles in Publishers Weekly. Thank you, Sue Corbett.

And one more Q&A, with Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Thank you, Helen! I love working with my VCFA friends.

And here are the journal reviews. Still waiting on School Library Journal, but here are the other four review journals we wait for with each new book. You can see... so far, Countdown has four starred reviews! Let me say that again, so I can begin to believe it: Four Stars!

Kirkus Reviews (star): Just as 11-year-old Franny Chapman squabbles with her once-best friend in their neighborhood near Andrews Air Force Base, outside of Washington, D.C., President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev are also at odds. Franny's spot-on "Heavens to Murgatroyd" dialogue captures the trepidation as the world holds its breath during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Adding to the pressure are her college-student activist older sister, who may be a spy, her aspiring -astronaut younger brother, who refuses to eat, her steely, chain-smoking mother, who has inexplicably burst into tears, her often-absent pilot father, now spending long days on base, and her PTSD-suffering, World War-I-veteran Uncle Otts, who's digging up the front yard to build a bomb shelter. Wiles's "documentary novel," based on her own childhood memories and the first in the The Sixties Project trilogy, has a striking scrapbook feel, with ingeniously selected and placed period photographs, cartoons, essays, song lyrics, quotations, advertisements and "duck and cover" instructions interspersed through the narrative. References to duct tape (then newly invented), McDonald's and other pop culture lend authenticity to the phenomenal story of the beginnings of radical change in America.

The Horn Book (star):  Even the weakest history student knows that the world didn't end during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, yet it can be hard to shurg off the old-time geopolitical jitters in this first-rate novel -- especially when its eye-grabbing graphic spreads of Cold War-era images, lyrics, speeches, and headlines, shrewdly interspersed throughout the book, come into view. Eleven-year-old Franny Chapman is the narrator, an Air Force brat and middle child living in suburban Maryland who enjoys trying out new words and feeling persecuted at home and school. But with JFK facing down the Communists, a father on active duty, a disapproving mother, a nervous little brother, a secretive older sister, and a shell-shocked great uncle with blueprints for a bomb shelter, Franny certainly has cause to feel on-edge. Because the graphics provide most of the novel's social commentary and historical explication (including a superb interpretation of President Kennedy's speech to a nervous nation on October 22, 1962), the prose is free to focus on characters; and the dialogue is often rat-a-tat sharp. Franny's rivalry with a frenemy, mostly over a cute boy back in town, sets off a subplot that picks up speed over the second half of the novel. Another subplot, about older sister Jo Ellen's clandestine civil rights efforts, appears to be laying a foundation for the next volume of a projected trilogy. The larger story, however, told here in an expert coupling of text and design, is how life endures, even triumphs, no matter how perilous the times. -- Anne Quirk

Booklist (star): More than a few books have been written about growing up in the early 1960s, but Wiles takes her story, the first in a the Sixties Trilogy, to an impressive new level by adding snippets of songs and speeches and contemporaneous black-and-white photographs to the mix. Drawing on her own experiences during this turbulent time, Wiles’ stand-in is 11-year-old Franny Chapman. Living near Andrews Air Force Base, close to Washington, D.C., Franny and her classmates are used to air-raid drills, where they practice how to “duck and cover.” Worries about a nuclear disaster become concrete when President Kennedy announces Russian missiles are in Cuba, and the tension ratchets up for 13 days in October 1962. But, at the same time, life goes on, and while rumors of war swirl, Franny must also deal with family issues, including a shell-shocked uncle who embarrasses her, an older sister with secrets, and a best friend who has eyes for someone else. Dealing with fear is one of the book’s themes, and the dramatic  ending takes this issue on in both macro and micro terms. Wiles skillfully keeps many balls in the air, giving readers a story that appeals across the decades as well as offering enticing paths into the history. Many readers will find this on their own, but adults who read bits and pieces aloud will hook kids, who’ll eagerly await the next installments. -- Ilene Cooper

Publishers Weekly (star): heads north from her familiar Mississippi terrain (Each Little Bird That Sings) for this "documentary novel" set in Maryland during the Cuban missile crisis. Eleven-year-old Franny, a middle child, is in the thick of it-her father (like Wiles's was) is a pilot stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. Wiles palpably recreates the fear kids felt when air-raid sirens and duck-and-cover drills were routine, and when watching president Kennedy's televised speech announcing the presence of missiles in Cuba was an extra-credit assignment. Home life offers scant refuge. Franny's beloved older sister is keeping secrets and regularly disappearing; her mother's ordered household is upended by the increasingly erratic behavior of Uncle Otts (a WWI veteran); and Franny's relationship with her best friend Margie is on the brink as both vie for the same boy's attention. Interwoven with Franny's first-person, present-tense narration are period photographs, newspaper clippings, excerpts from informational pamphlets (how to build a bomb shelter), advertisements, song lyrics, and short biographical vignettes written in past tense about important figures of the cold war/civil rights era- Harry S. Truman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Pete Seeger. The back-and-forth is occasionally dizzying, but the striking design and heavy emphasis on primary source material may draw in graphic novel fans. Culminating with Franny's revelation that "It's not the calamity that's the hard part. It's figuring out how to love one another through it," this story is sure to strike a chord with those living through tough times today
So. We are off to an auspicious start.  And yet... here is what I know, what I have learned. Reviews are important, very important, yes. And the reviews that count the most, over the long haul of a book's life, are the ones from the everyday readers -- my rock stars --  who hold that book in their hands, read it, and shove it into someone else's hands, saying, "You've GOT to read this! It's amazing! It's wonderful! You are gonna LOVE it!"

I hope my readers -- all of you -- feel that way about Franny Chapman and her story. May this lovely little book have a very long life. Welcome to the world, Countdown!


  1. There also a glowing review on the Barrow Media Center Blog.

    Happy Day!

  2. I read the manuscript-in-progress and now I'm reading it with all the bells and whistles and wow, Mz. Wiles, I just want to say that I'm honored to know you.

  3. Thanks, Andy! I shall edit to add when I am home. Yay!

    Oh, Dian. Thank you so much, friend. The honor is mine. xoxo


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